And it was all going so well. The unity of the Conservative Party – central to Rishi Sunak’s next 18 months – is cracking.
Six days after Suella Braverman publicly criticised the government’s policy on immigration, the Sunday Times has reported that she asked civil servants to arrange a private speed awareness course to avoid a fine or getting points on her driving licence after being caught speeding last summer. She eventually paid the fine. The ministerial code states that ministers must not involve civil servants in their private matters. Sunak has said he will speak with his ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus, later today, 22 May, to determine whether to launch an investigation.
As Rachel pointed out last week, this is tricky for the PM. He brought Braverman into government to appease the right of the party, and sacking her would provoke it. Moreover, he won’t want another unruly minister leading rebellions from the backbenches. There are enough former prime ministers doing that already. Sunak will have to decide whether sacking a troublemaker outweighs the potential backlash.
[See also: What do the Tories have to show for 13 years in office?]
If he doesn’t sack her, could she resign? For weeks, Westminster has been full of speculation about Braverman’s resignation. She has done nothing to dampen those rumours. As I pointed out on the New Statesman Podcast, her speech at the National Conservatism conference last week was a rehearsal for the leadership contest. Her calls for lower immigration, days before high migration figures are to be released, were well-timed to distanced herself from No 10. If she is going to walk in the hope of securing support in the post-Rishi contest, she will have welcomed the angry response from the party’s right to Sunak’s decision not to scrap thousands of EU laws. Fertile ground.
The question is how soon she needs to resign to avoid bearing responsibility for the government’s failure to stop people crossing the Channel. The longer she stays in post, the harder it will be to say “I told you so”. Martyrdom is elusive once you’re complicit.
On Thursday (25 May), immigration figures will be released that are expected to be well over half a million. Her resignation letter writes itself: these figures prove that No 10 should have heeded my advice. What better time to go?
This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe to it on Substack here.
[See also: The rise, fall and rise of Suella Braverman]